Australia accepted a great responsibility in 1946, when it agreed to abide by the terms outlined in the United Nations Trusteeship Agreement and direct colonial policy in the Territory of New Guinea (after 1949 the Territory of Papua and New Guinea) toward the social, economic, and political development of the Territory’s indigenous population. Emulating British colonial development in East Africa and the British Solomon Islands Protectorate, it introduced cooperative societies to facilitate the growth of the indigenous cash economy and gradually established local government councils to regulate municipal affairs. The public servants primarily responsible for implementing colonial development policy in the field were the “outside men”—patrol officers (often referred to as ‘native affairs’ officers or kiaps) working for the Department of District Services and Native Affairs (1946-55) and its successors, the Department of Native Affairs (1956-63) and the Department of District Administration (1964-69). Representing the hard power of the state, patrol officers explored the country and used the threat of force to introduce and maintain British law. They also employed the soft power of enticement, promising development as an incentive for cooperation. Their soft power functions increased after the Pacific War, when they supervised (arguably dominated) cooperative societies and local government councils.
In theory, colonial development promised amelioration and progress. In practice, it often exacted a heavy physical and psychological toll on Papua New Guineans, bringing disease, arbitrary violence, and humiliation. Local people adopted a number of strategies in response to white intrusion. Some acquiesced with the government and used compliance as a means of increasing their own position within the colonial culture. Others adopted an uncooperative attitude, neither resisting nor complying with the patrol officers. Colonial intrusion fractured pre-existing forms of self-management, leaving village people struggling to understand the radical changes of culture contact. Many supported alternative development associations—such as welfare societies, kampanis, and kivungs (often dismissed as ‘cargo cults’)—in opposition to state structures. Field officers attempted to direct economic and political development in the villages toward state controlled structures and often discouraged independent indigenous development.
Although Australia promised to create opportunities for local people, enhanced indigenous participation implied greater indigenous independence. This threatened Australian control in strategically important Papua New Guinea. Careful to contain ‘cargo cult’ and communist activity, the Australian Administration attempted to maintain absolute control over indigenous political and economic development and regulate potentially subversive influences in the Territory. The conflicting role of patrol officers as both agents of control and agents of development reflected the contradiction in the Australian Trusteeship. Their policing functions created distrust in the villages and impeded positive relations with local people, who resented white authoritarianism and the demands of the Administration. Lack of trust made it difficult for the patrol officers to implement development policies. This thesis explores these contradictions in Australia’s trusteeship and the practice of colonial development in Papua New Guinea. It illustrates how Australia’s obsession with absolute control impeded the creation of appropriate and sustainable economic and political development in Papua New Guinea.
Most studies of the kiap system concentrate on the early contact period, or the ‘first phase’ of colonial administration. This thesis adds to the literature by exploring how patrol officers and Papua New Guineans negotiated economic and political development during the ‘second phase’ of colonial development. It uses patrol reports written by field officers, documents generated by the Department of Territories and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), official correspondence, personal correspondence contained in archival collections, and contemporary newspaper reports to construct a social history of economic and political development in late-colonial Papua New Guinea. Uniquely, it reveals how Cold War political pressures constrained development related discourses in Papua New Guinea and how the security services used patrol officers and compliant Papua New Guineans to keep the Territory under surveillance. While development may have been a common goal for most people in post-war Territory of Papua and New Guinea (henceforth Papua New Guinea), its form was a matter of much negotiation and conflict, involving a number of competing indigenous and non-indigenous interests.