Tom Webster – a kiap in Papua New Guinea
I was 20 years old when I arrived in Port Moresby in July 1969 to train as an Assistant Patrol Officer (APO). For the next two months, with extensive training from experienced patrol officers and district officers, I studied everything from law to radio operation, surveying, anthropology and patrolling.

My first posting was to Laiagam, in the Lagaip Sub-District, Western Highlands. In week one, I supervised the extension of the airstrip. During my first census/training patrol, I investigated a fatal fire in a nearby school where a teacher and six students had died.

From October 1969 until July 1970, I was stationed at the Tabibuga Patrol Post in the Jimi River Sub-District of the Western Highlands. One of my 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). I also led exploratory and census patrols.

In July 1970, I was promoted to Patrol Officer (PO) in charge of the Angalimp Administrative Centre, near Mount Hagen in the Western Highlands. With ongoing fighting between the Menka and Andagelika clans at Tuman, much of my time there was devoted to breaking up clashes, arresting participants and appearing in court prosecutions as witness and 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. I supervised two official expedition patrols to climb Mount Angalimp, 14,300 feet above sea level, the third highest mountain in Papua New Guinea, and the source of many local superstitions.

In April 1971, I was married while on leave in Australia. In June that year, I returned to Angalimp with my wife, Judy. Later, after a terrifying incident in which Judy and our baby son Mark were taken hostage, we were posted to the very remote Lake Kopiago Patrol Post in the Southern Highlands. By then, I had qualified as a local court magistrate.

I remained at Lake Kopiago until 1974. In May of that year, I took up my last posting as Assistant District Officer, Council Advisor, at nearby Koroba Sub-District HQ. In February 1975, my six-year contract completed, I returned home. A few months later, Papua New Guinea gained independence from Australia.

Here’s a selection of photographs taken during my six years as a kiap in Papua New Guinea. I’m very pleased to be part of this National Archives of Australia project and look forward to seeing photos from other kiaps.
14 photos · 1,549 views