Calling all kiaps

Media release: Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Thirty-five years after Papua New Guinea gained independence on 16 September 1975, the National Archives of Australia is now paying tribute to the 2000 Australians who served there as patrol officers (kiaps).

The kiaps, now living across Australia and elsewhere, will see their contribution recognised with a display of photographs from the Archives collection on its Flickr site. The Archives is also hoping former kiaps, or people who knew them, will help identify those in the photographs and share their memories and their own photos online.

The pidgin term 'kiap' is derived from the German 'kapitan'. Young men who took up the challenge enjoyed autonomy and the opportunity to make a difference. Kiaps shouldered a diverse range of roles from ambassador, policeman, judge and administrator to explorer, farmer, engineer and anthropologist.

One former kiap Tom Webster, who now lives at Nimmitabel, near Canberra, has posted photographs from his own collection, and offered personal items from his kiap days for display at the Archives.

'In 1969, at the age of 20, Tom left his job in Canberra to became a cadet patrol officer in Port Moresby,' said National Archives curator Jane Macknight. 'His belongings and photographs add a personal touch to the larger picture.'

After completing his training course, Tom Webster was posted to Laiagam, in the Western Highlands. Within days of arriving, he supervised the extension of the airstrip, investigated a fatal fire in a nearby school, and set off on his first census patrol.

The National Archives has also mounted displays on the kiaps in its Canberra galleries and is organising a tribute event in November for kiaps from around Australia to attend. Further information.

Flickr links

Caption: Papua and New Guinea villagers pose with an Australian patrol officer or 'kiap' in 1948 (courtesy National Archives of Australia).

Contact information

  • Elizabeth Masters (Media Officer)
    t (02) 6212 3957 m 0427 853 664 e
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