Memories of the Kiaps Project

    A group of researchers at James Cook University (JCU), the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) and PNG’s National Research Institute (NRI) are seeking interested former kiaps (both Australian and Papua New Guinean) who would be willing to participate in a study documenting their work experiences.

    Their research project seeks to capitalise on a rich archival record and a living heritage of oral history among the last generation of Papua New Guinean and Australian patrol officers (kiaps) in the employ of the Australian administration during its final years in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Focusing on the last decade before Independence (1965-1975), the project will investigate the development work of the kiaps in preparing the rural population politically and economically for citizenship in the soon to be independent nation-state.

    KEY AIMS OF THE PROJECT
    1. Investigate the previously underexamined development work of Papuan New Guinean kiaps.
    2. Generate new knowledge about the underexamined efforts of both PNG and Australian kiaps from 1965-1975 to prepare the rural population for citizenship in the new state of PNG, by focusing on case studies of their political and economic development work in rural areas.
    3. Analyse kiaps’ understandings of their work in encouraging participation and citizenship in what they imagined might be the future political economy of the new nation state.

    To date, there has been little research specifically on the very last generation of kiaps and their rich memories of their work in rural areas. The Australian and PNG kiaps’ records provide insights into their understandings of state formations and their commitments to different forms of political and economic citizenship. This study will uniquely integrate the living memories of kiaps who worked in PNG towards the end of the kiap system of government with their current understandings of the impact of their work. The research seeks to redefine the significance of the PNG kiaps to the history of PNG’s independence. They aim to make PNG kiaps more visible and central to that history, and to replace their almost complete absence with a lively presence in the national memories and histories of that time.

    Few Australians are aware of the history of the long-term relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea (PNG). The memories of Australians and Papua New Guineans who were employed by the Australian administration prior to PNG Independence are rapidly being lost (as acknowledged on 12/01/2023 by James Marape, Prime Minister of PNG: “The kiaps are the forgotten generation”).

    Prof Henry says “While the decolonisation of PNG has been subject to extensive analysis already, this study seeks to rethink decolonisation and preparation for Independence by emphasising the agency and decision-making of patrol officers, who worked on the ground away from the major centres of administration. The project will explore how individual kiaps represented their ideas about policies and practices of decolonisation in the local contexts where they were working.

    THE TEAM, RESEARCH QUESTIONS AND METHODS

    The JCU researchers involved in the project are Professor Rosita Henry, Associate Professor Simon Foale and Dr Michael Wood, all have long-term ethnographic field experience in PNG and demonstrated experience in archival research. The non-JCU International partner investigators are NRI’s Dr Elizabeth Koppel, and UPNG’s Dr Linus digim’Rina. Both scholars have a deep knowledge of PNG’s history that is crucial to the project.

    A community consultative group composed of former kiaps in North Queensland will be established to disseminate communication of results amongst the kiap community. Some team members already have well-established existing relationships with former kiaps. Through snowball networking, the research team have begun to create a database of former kiaps who would be willing to participate in the study.

    A/Prof Foale explained that “Much of the research will focus on understanding the working theories of the kiaps and PNG citizens regarding modernity, economic and human development, and the promise of capitalism and liberal democracy. Such research topics will highlight the role of kiaps as agents of both colonisation and decolonisation and will enable exploration of the complexities of the kiaps’ practices and thinking about Independence, social change and the future relationship between PNG and Australia.”

    Another set of research questions concerns the interactions between kiaps and their subjects. They want to record and understand the social relations that informed the everyday interactions between the kiaps and future PNG citizens. By paying attention to the recovery of PNG voices from the colonial archive, they seek to produce a unique account of the shared histories of Australia and PNG in the lead up to Independence. Dr Wood says the emphasis on the PNG kiaps is a crucial part of recovering such voices.

    In addition to the above aims, they will foster student research by incorporating a PhD research project and several honours and/or Masters of Global Development Studies projects that will significantly inform our research.

    While the project focuses on kiaps, the researchers recognise that they were not the only government officers on the ground working to prepare Papua New Guineans to be citizens of a new nation state. Kiap work was conducted in conjunction with other government workers, such as schoolteachers, agricultural officers and fisheries officers. Thus, they propose to support and supervise student projects focusing on these different agents. The PhD research would concern the political education efforts and citizenship curriculum of schoolteachers in the employ of the Australian administration prior to Independence, and the Masters and Honours projects would variously address the educational/development efforts of agricultural, forestry and fisheries officers, who provided important practical development education on the ground in the rural areas. 

    “The study hopes to make a significant contribution to an important gap in knowledge. Papua New Guinea poses major social, economic, and foreign policy challenges to Australia; yet Australia’s colonial legacy in PNG, which has profoundly shaped the relationship between the two nation states, is largely unknown in the public domain. By drawing on the memories of the last generation of government officers who worked in PNG prior to Independence, and their archives, the project will seek to address this significant gap in knowledge and bring to light this hitherto neglected political history.” - Prof Rosita Henry.

    This project will benefit Australia socially and culturally through publications (written and audio-visual) that will help to revive and sharpen the focus of Australia as a member of, and contributor to, the Pacific community. The ideas and practices of the last generation of patrol officers who worked for the Australian administration in PNG, especially the kiaps of PNG heritage, are today not well known. This project expects to fill this gap in knowledge by reviewing how these kiaps prepared the rural population, politically and economically, for citizenship in the new nation-state.

    The research team plans to produce a series of short accessible films/digital narratives featuring key problems or issues of decolonisation work, based on interviews with the last living kiaps and/or teachers and others who worked in PNG prior to Independence. These may be suitable for use in the curriculum for teaching history, social studies, civics or citizenship studies in schools in Australia and PNG. They explained that their intention is to communicate the results in such a way that will have an impact by enhancing the national memory of the close relationship between Papua New Guineans and Australians and the legacy of the practical development work of agents of the Australian colonial government towards Independence.

    Results will be communicated to the wider public through workshops, newsletters, social media, and through audio-visual materials on the websites of PNG’s National Research Institute (NRI) and The Cairns Institute (TCI). They will also publish some of their findings as discussion papers through the NRI. Other material will be published via kiap forums such as the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia (PNGAA).

    For further information, contact the researchers via rosita.henry@jcu.edu.au or simon.foale@jcu.edu.au

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