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Old 01-02-2004, 01:00 AM
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Reluctant Rambo by Jim Austin

From 1985 – 1987 I was an active member of the Royal Papua New Guinea Police Force. It was at a time when law and order was at a low ebb. Criminals owned the night and theft, murder and rape was rampant.

The stone age was butting heads with civilization and the result was chaos. Tribal fighting had been a way of life in Papua New Guinea for the past millennium or so and the advent of towns, schools and government did not take the fighting nature of the people or their peculiar brand of tribalism into consideration. The regular police were mostly ineffective.

Myself and ten other expatriate men joined the inaugural reserve police force of 50 or so in Mt. Hagen, the capital city of the Western Highlands Province, known predictably, as the "Wild West". My good friend and golfing buddy Andy McArthur was the catalyst behind all the expats who signed up for reserve police duties.

Andy was a Scotsman. He was known as a fair golfer who liked to gamble, drink, brag, fight and behave like a boor except when there were ladies present. In other words he was much like the rest of us. During an evening of drinking following a day on the links Andy brought up the idea of joining the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary.

Naturally we all thought this was a grand idea. We'd whip those rascals into shape. Just what they need, a taste of European justice. We babbled away in a Eurocentric frenzy until it was time to depart the club.

The next day Andy was the only one who remembered the conversation. He called each one of us to say that applications were in the mail and he had already received special dispensation for our Sikh buddy Iqbal to wear his turban while on duty. Lucky Iqbal.

After cursing Andy for a week or so some of us filled out the applications and waited for death. Now the slight problem of learning how to be a cop was upon us. All I knew about police was that they cost you a lot of money if you drove too fast and if you argued with them they could shoot you.

We all gathered on a Tuesday evening at the Mt. Hagen High School and prepared for our bi-weekly police class where, at the end of six weeks, we would write an exam and become cops. Two instructors from the Bomana Police College in Port Moresby were present to explain the law, arrest procedures, crime scene preservation and hand to hand combat. Previous to this I had had one close encounter with the Mt. Hagen police and their procedures.

One Sunday afternoon our neighbor knocked on the door. Her husband was away and a broken window led her to suspect that someone was in her house. This was certainly not an unwarranted suspicion since burglary was second only to armed robbery as the official provincial sport in the Western Highlands.

We called the police and waited for their arrival. About a half hour later two uniformed officers pulled up in a blue Suzuki patrol car. They interviewed our neighbor, examined the broken window from the road and agreed that there could very well be rascals inside (incidentally, the term "rascal" is used to describe any criminal no matter how egregious the crime). To call their procedures non-confrontational was an understatement. Both cops stood on the road and began hurling gravel on the roof.

The roofs were all corrugated iron in our neighborhood so the racket was deafening. The idea was to alert the criminals to the presence of the police and then leave them a convenient escape route. In this case they could run out the back door, scamper over the fence and be gone. It worked. After ten minutes of rock throwing the police entered the house in a tentative manner and sure enough, no criminals. Now was my chance to join this cadre of crime fighting professionals.

I can honestly say that I knew less about cop behavior at the end of the course than at the beginning. Our teachers were cops who didn't really understand the rules themselves and had never taught before. The only thing that stuck with me was a lesson on the use of the baton. Baton is an interesting name for a club used to bash people. “Baton” reminds you of 10 year old girls in parades with sparkly uniforms instead of pulping someone's brain.

Anyway, we were instructed in no uncertain terms that the baton was a last resort and was to be applied to the elbows, shoulders and knees, never the head. The really last resort was to fire your tear gas or mace in the suspect's face. The absolutely positively last resort was to shoot them. Running away was not a resort at all, however it was pretty high on my list.

The written final exam was a piece of cake. All the expats received marks in the high nineties (The test was designed for people without 17 or so years of education as we all had). We were ready for graduation.

Unfortunately for me, I became a victim of the crime that was rife in Mt. Hagen on the eve of our graduation ceremonies. I had broken a basic rule of security and paid a bloody price. I was running late on a Friday evening and arrived home with just enough time to pick up Ruth for our dinner date at the Pioneer Club. Instead of putting the car inside the chain link fence as I had done a thousand times before I left it outside the gate and ran in to change.

It took all of ten minutes before we were walking through the gate ready to roll. Ruth, who was four months pregnant, jumped in the car beside me. Before I could turn the key the window on my side shattered and the door was jerked open. A bearded man with an axe demanded Ruth's purse. She made to hand it over but the long leather shoulder strap got tangled around her wrist.

As I reached to help her I saw two young accomplice's staring in Ruth's window. They looked all of 16 years old and judging by their expressions, terrified. This was all taking too long for the axe-man. He took a short swing with his weapon within the confined space of the car. It was headed for my face and I instinctively brought my hand up to block the blow. The force of the swing was minimal but the axe was razor-sharp. According to the surgeon's report in Brisbane Australia the following day the blow had:

"...sliced through the extensive digitorum tendons of the index and middle fingers together with the extensor indicis tendon."

The upshot was that my hand closed involuntarily like a frightened clam. The bandit then demanded that we leave the car. No argument from us.

I wasn't too worried about Ruth's exit as the two on her side looked more afraid than she was. I was very concerned with their mentor. I expected that when I stepped out of the car Fagin would elect to take a full swing with his meat-axe. He didn't. He and his young charges piled into the car while we stood to the side with nowhere to go.

My gate keys were on the ignition key-ring and we were more or less waiting for them to leave. I guess guys who axe people for a living are not blessed with great intelligence. Fagin could figure out how to get the car in reverse but releasing the hand brake was apparently beyond his capability. We could see the car bucking in reverse and then stalling, bucking and stalling. It was then that Ruth surprised me with a bizarre statement:

"Oh Jim," she said, "Those pricks are going to drive away with your new golf clubs."

She was right. I had paid $500 for a new set of Pings in Hong Kong not 3 months ago. By the look of my hand it was going to be a while before I could use them but still, it wouldn't hurt to ask for them back. The fact that Ruth thought of the clubs and I even considered asking for them doesn't make a whole lot of sense but we were in a state of shock and not really making great decisions. I walked up to the window and spoke to my assailant.

"Would you mind letting me get my golf clubs, they're in the back."

He gave me a very strange look and decided that he had been around long enough. He and his pals jumped out of the car, and with Ruth's purse dangling from his shoulder scampered off to parts unknown. Net profit to crooks: One purse, contents; one handkerchief and one driver's license.

Now it was time to look after my hand. Ruth called our doctor who told us to meet him in his office. She then called the police and arranged to have them meet us there as well. Ruth jumped behind the wheel, released the handbrake, and in five minutes I was on the examining table.

While in the doctor's office the Commander of the police department took my information and at the same time administered the oath of office for me to become a police officer. Since the remainder of the group were due to be administered their oath of office the next day I became, by one day, the first reserve police officer in the history of the country.

Cool. Dr. Nelson looked over the wound and announced that this was a job for the surgeon. While he called the hospital we drove over to the emergency room and waited for the surgeon on call. He wobbled in about an hour later and started examining my hand. I was afraid that if he breathed much more whiskey breath on the wound he would pickle it so I got off the examining table and headed back for the doctor's office. He agreed that surgeon's who are pissed to the eyeballs seldom do their best work and recommended I be flown out to Brisbane.

Ruth went to work that evening. She called friends in Brisbane who arranged for a plastic surgeon specializing in hand reconstruction to meet me at Wesley Hospital. Twelve hours from the time my hand was chopped I was on the operating table with Dr. Andrew Jenkins wielding the cutlery. I asked him to leave a lurid scar so I could impress the ladies with my nightmarish tale. This request was ignored of course and my only souvenir is a hairline scar across the back of my hand. I have since recovered full function.

When I returned to Mt. Hagen three weeks later I had my arm in a sling and had lost considerable muscle tone due to inactivity. The boys at the club were telling war stories about their police activities and I became anxious to exert some of my newly conferred authority. In retrospect the clamor to get on the beat usually came after several drinks at the club.

I would like to think that revenge was not on my mind but I couldn't swear to it. My very first official duty was on a sunny Saturday when me and 3 non-police golfing buddies were on our way to the course. Traffic slowed on the highway and I noticed two police cars directing traffic around a body that was lying on the verge of the highway.

I pulled off to the side of the road and informed my associates that this looked like a job for a trained officer. Me. I got out of my car and halted the slow moving traffic. I admit to being a bit self conscious as I clacked across the highway in my golf spikes, wearing plaid bermuda shorts and a fire-engine red golf shirt.

"What's the problem officer." I queried to my colleague, a member of the regular force. "Dead body" he replied, "hit by a coffee truck". I guess I should have known it was a dead body since enough there was a corpse lying at our feet stiff as a starched collar. I felt I had to do something so I leaned over the body and felt for a pulse in the neck.

There hadn't been a pulse in this guy for several hours so I told the officer to "Carry on" and clacked back across the highway. I could be mistaken but I thought there might have been an element of sarcasm in his "Thanks for the help." Maybe it was just a glitch in our cross-cultural communication, yeah that's it, he just "sounded" sarcastic.

After a short while Andy became the Sergeant over all of the reserves. There were about forty of us on the Mt. Hagen Police force including 11 expatriates. Nationally there were thousands of reserves who signed up but only 12 "Whiteys" were among them. That eleven of us were from Mt. Hagen was a testament to Andy's powers of persuasion and our severe limitations around logical decision-making.

With my cast off I was ready to assume my duties that consisted of two evening patrols per week. We always did one during the week and one day of the weekend. Most officers spent their 6-hour shifts on foot patrol. It was tiring and dangerous work. I had managed to avoid foot patrols mainly because I was Andy's pal and Andy always drove.

It was a Friday night and Andy, Iqbal and I were cruising around the town. Andy was looking to arrest someone while Iqbal and I were counting the seconds to the end of the shift. The radio crackled once and an evening of "Keystone Cops On Acid" was about to begin.

The dispatcher seemed in quite a flap as she announced the following: "Wanpela tipper has crashed through ples pasim rot and is heading to Wabag." This interesting mixture of languages could be translated to mean that a dump truck had crashed through the police roadblock and was heading out of town. Andy perked up like Count Dracula at a carotid artery convention.

Since dump trucks in PNG can often contain half the population of village we were able to convince Andy that a few more bodies might be of use. We stopped a foot patrol and enlisted the aid of a Papua New Guinean sergeant and another reserve constable who hailed from Jamaica. The posse now included Andy the Scot, Jim the Yank, Iqbal the Sikh, Alistair the Jamaican and Ungla the PNGer. We were a regular U.N. expeditionary force.

We blazed by the roadblock where two police Suzukis lay on their sides in the ditch, scattered like crumpled blue dice. The roadblock officers pointed us in the direction of Wabag. It didn't take too long to catch up with our felonious dump truck. The driver had the gas pedal buried but 50 miles per hour was all he could muster. Every time we tried to pass him he would swerve over and try to hit us. This made for some very tight sphincters and a lot of imaginative cursing from Andy. About that time the Jamaican cracked:

"Ondy mon, I got a wife at home and two kids." he squawked. "Shet yer mouth ya bloody bahstarrrd." Andy replied sympathetically and pushed the Nissan to within 4 millimeters of the dump truck.

It was then that the "Fox Unit" had caught up to us. This was a plain clothes squad of detectives from the regular force. Their small pick-up truck took our place directly behind the tipper. Andy had reluctantly dropped back and we now waited to see what brilliant strategy the cream of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary would come up with. We were not disappointed.

One of the two Fox Unit regulars in the back of the pickup stood up with a tear gas gun and (I am not lying) fired a canister into the back of the dump truck. It clanged off the body in back of the cab and fell into the tray. Naturally tear gas started pouring out of the dumper directly into the window of the pickup truck trailing behind it. This caused the driver to swerve violently and pull off to the side of the road, eyes, presumably, streaming tears.

Even though the situation was tense this caused a bout of uncontrollable laughter from everyone in our vehicle except for Alistair who was still concerned about his future on the planet.

It seemed that it was up to us to play the hand dealt by the mad dump truck driver and his pal. The PNG sergeant directly behind me decided to open the bidding. Without mentioning anything to the rest of us he pulled out his .38 caliber revolver stuck it out the rear window and squeezed off all six shots at the fleeing truck.

The proximity of his seat and the length of his arm put the pistol about 4 inches from my left ear when the first bullet discharged. "Oh, sorry," was his comment when I finally caught my breath enough to scream at him. At least I think I screamed, I really couldn't hear what I said then or for the next week or so. Not happy with the artillery arrangements I asked him for his pistol and six more rounds.

We Austin's are not noted for our enthusiasm for firearms but we have watched enough Miami Vice to know what to do. You point, you shoot, no big deal. I unhooked my seatbelt and shoved my torso out the window so that I was seated on the window frame. Andy, the driver, reached over and grabbed me by my Sam Brown belt to forestall an early departure and swerved violently left to give me a shot at the front tire. With double tires in the rear it seemed to make sense to try and plug the front.

I assumed the classic double handed grip on the pistol and fired all six shots at the front tire of the truck. Nothing happened after my fusillade of hot lead and I resumed my seat rather sheepishly. Clint Eastwood would have smirked had he seen my performance. However, had Clint waited a few minutes for the air to escape from the punctured tire he would then have admired my marksmanship.

Not only did the tire flatten and come off the rim, narrowly missing our vehicle, the rim itself came off and bounded into the bush. Most PNG mechanics know that six lug nuts on a rim is a waste of four and as a consequence Mario Andretti was down to his brake drum. On my very first try at pistol shooting I had scored a hit. Awesome.

Now the truck was down to about 25 miles per hour with the brake drum scoring a serpentine trench into the asphalt of the Hagen to Wabag highway. We were going to pass the truck easily. What we thought we were going to do then was unclear. We never had to deal with that little problem as the driver turned off onto a dirt road.

We followed and encountered another difficulty which looked like putting an end to the chase. The dry-season dust came up in huge clouds and hung maddeningly in the air forcing us to drop back at least a quarter mile. Andy was furious, Alistair was obviously elated and the rest of us pretended to be disappointed. We were sure that the two criminals would just pull over and flee into the jungle where they would be gone for good. To our surprise we rounded a corner and there was the truck.

It had missed a sharp left turn which would have carried them over the river via a Bailey bridge. Mario was reversing his cumbersome Indy dump truck to have another try at the bridge. I think shooting the tire off the truck had altered my natural state somewhat. I was a portly Rambo in blue spats and combat boots as I leapt from our vehicle and ran to the driver's side of the truck.

The window was open and I let our nemesis have a face full of mace from a container about the same size as an aerosol can of Reddi-Whip. (We were issued mace with the brand name "Federal Streamer" which projected a garden hose stream of toxic liquid) The driver caught it full in the face. This character was no quitter. Totally blind and gagging he shifted into first and plowed forward. Events got a bit surreal after that.

The truck piled into the cement side of the bridge and rolled down the bank toward the river stopping about 8 feet below the road, roof to ground and all 6 wheels spinning. I looked down and saw the windshield had popped out and the driver was crawling through and heading under the bridge. Since several police cars were pulling up behind us with thirty or so cops I saw my chance to go down in reserve history.

I drew my baton, screamed a mighty oath and jumped down the bank to confront the driver from hell. Two steps and I was face to face with him screaming "Halt!" at about 20 decibels. Why I thought he would halt for me after all the effort he had put into not halting I don't know.

Blinded but full of fight he advanced on my position. I forgot all of my baton training about striking shoulders, elbows or knees and bashed him square on the melon. Luckily for both of us my weakened arm carried all the power of a butterfly's kiss and he ignored the blow.

He staggered off in the opposite direction forcing me to jump on his back and apply the sleeper hold. I had watched enough World Wrestling Federation bouts to know that when the sleeper is applied it is only a matter of time before the opponent is a limp bag of mush ready to be counted out.

Unfortunately third world criminals don't get to watch the World Wrestling Federation. With a powerful shrug I was detached and sent tumbling the rest of the way down the bank into a gooey backwater of mud at the river's edge. Dreams of being carried off the field of battle on the shoulders of my comrades was fading fast.

When I finally climbed up the bank I saw Andy with his shotgun about halfway up the nose of the evil driver's passenger. The driver himself was in a fetal position on the road where four of PNG's finest were vigorously putting the boots to him.

It was sort of like a Rodney King deal without the caring gentility of the LAPD. Eventually the cops tired of stomping our suspect and tossed him and his pal into a waiting paddy wagon. On the way home I advised Andy to have an ambulance waiting for us at the station as I was sure our man was severely injured if not dead.

When we arrived there was a brand new ambulance waiting. The driver was in the process of opening the rear door when he spotted the patient. Patient was a bloody, muddy lump of thoroughly battered and very unhappy meat. Slam went the ambulance door.

"This is a brand new ambulance." the driver informed us_ _indignantly. "I have to pick up the night shift in ten minutes."

Just when you think there are no standards in PNG you find that keeping up a clean ambulance is a very high priority. Our prisoner was tossed back into the paddy wagon for his trip to the hospital. He recovered quickly and headed for the calaboose to pay for his sins. Mt. Hagen was once again safe from psycho dump truck operaters.

Imbakey Okuk was the deputy prime minister of the country in 1986. He was the first Highlander to achieve this level of prominence in the federal government. Up until then coastal men held all of the high government posts. It was because of this that he was held in very high esteem by Highlanders in all parts of the country. Imbakey had died in Australia of heart disease and his body was flown back to Port Moresby.

When a big man dies in the Highlands trouble is never far behind. Riots, murder and looting is often the upshot of the death of a leader. The reason for this is difficult for an outsider to understand. One reason is that no one ever seems to die of natural causes. If someone croaks then his enemies must have had a hand in it. Imbakey did not die of heart disease in the minds of his tribal brothers. He was murdered with "puri-puri" (black magic) and vengeance was in order.

That the revenge exacted was not directed at any one person, tribe or sector of society is not as important as destroying something in the name of Okuk. Generally speaking the more prominent the dead guy the greater the civil disorder. When Okuk karked the members of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary girded their collective loins for battle.

The drill with Imbakey was that his body would be displayed in all of the major towns in the country before being laid to rest in his home town of Kundiawa in Eastern Highlands province. Moresby, Lae and Goroka had already had extensive rioting resulting in several deaths and the pillaging of much of the downtown area. Mt. Hagen was next.

Andy, Iqbal a regular member of the force and I piled into Andy's 4x4 armed with various clubs, firearms and chemical weapons to deal with the expected rioting. I don't mind admitting that reading the papers over the past few days had done nothing to bolster my level of courage which was not all that huge to begin with.

Despite my out of character exploits with the dump truck, I was just getting used to asking drivers for their licences without pissing myself when this assignment loomed for the weekend. We all drove to the station to find out which killing field we were assigned to. All of the police in Mount Hagen, both regulars and reserves, mustered at the station on Saturday morning.

Sergeant Andy told us that we might be given the duty of patrolling the suburbs to discourage thievery while the regular police stood ready to control rioters in the city. I thought this was an absolutely first class idea. Tooling around town far from the burning buildings and clouds of tear gas, snipers and rioting villagers was just fine with me. Yessir that had my vote.

Just before the station commander handed out assignments a call came in from one of the out stations that there was a large flat bed truck headed for town full of heavily armed warriors. "We'll take care of that." said our big-mouth mutton-headed Sergeant. Just like that my last hope of getting through the day alive had fled. Andy McArthur was a friend of mine, a pretty good friend. I liked him because he was eccentric, funny and courageous. At that moment I wished that I had never met him. I wished that I had run him over in the parking lot of the Pioneer Club.

We set up a road block just outside of town and Sergeant Andy, Constable Iqbal and Constable Appelis got out and stationed themselves in front of the vehicle. Shortly an overloaded flatbed truck hove into view with what seemed like fifty warriors decked out in bird of paradise plumes and covered from head to toe in pig grease and soot. They all stood in the truck and sang while rhythmically banging the butt of their spears on the truck bed.

As the truck came to a halt I took the initiative. By that I mean I got on the radio and called for backup. I accomplished that before anyone could see how much my hands were shaking and returned to see Andy in heated discussion with the head man. He was demanding that all of the men leave their spears behind before they entered the town.

The head man argued that the spears were merely ceremonial and were necessary to complete their tribal dress. I wanted to point out that accessorizing with deadly weapons was could be dangerous but held my counsel. Finally some of the backup regular police arrived and took up the argument. We got back into the 4x4 and headed to town.

"I wonder where those blokes came from?" said Andy, referring to our backup. "Beats me." I lied unconvincingly. " Must have been in the area. Shouldn't we have a look around the suburbs just in case?"

We were on our way to Safetyville when the radio crackled and announced that there was rioting and looting going on in Minj, a small government outpost with a police station and a few trade stores only 15 minutes drive from town. Just when I was thinking I might live, this. We drove for 6 miles up the Highlands Highway toward Minj when we came to a sight that put my heart as well as a few other major organs into my throat.

The road was blocked with oil drums, logs and boulders. On the other side of this barrier were about 1000 screaming people and two flatbed trucks whose beds were crammed with so many people that the tire were virtually flat and going nowhere. We all stepped out and Appelis, our regular force member parlayed with some of the more prominent members of the mob.

The problem was that everyone wanted to board a PMV to get to town to see the dead politician and take part in the traditional rioting and sacking of the town. By the time the PMV's got to their part of the highway they were already full and just sped by the growing crowd.

They figured that while a roadblock might not get them a ride to town at least no one else was going to have any fun. I wondered if Ruth and my friends at the Pioneer Club would throw up a road block to celebrate my funeral which was sure to be later that day.

Appelis apparently spoke the lingo of this village and was busy ascertaining the cause of the shenanigans as I cradled my single-shot Russian-made shotgun over my forearm and tried to look dangerous. I did not feel dangerous. I devised a plan just in case the mob turned on us and decided to rip us limb from limb. I would quickly pull my shoe and sock off ram the barrel of my 12 gauge into my mouth and pull the trigger with my toe.

It was an old trick but I thought it just might work. As Appelis was dealing with the crowd I looked over at Andy the maniac and my jaw dropped in absolute horror. Andy was ordering people off the PMV in a very loud Scottish burr. "Get off the bus ya bloody bahstards" he brogued. When they didn't move fast enough he reached up over the side of the truck and started clubbing them with his baton.

"What in the name of Christ are you doing?" I queried in a voice one octave below absolute C. "Dinna warry Austin" he replied as he bashed a man built like Arnold Swartzenagger on the shoulder. "They rrrrrespect_ _a show of forrrrce." There were exactly four of us and a thousand plus of them. I fervently hoped that Andy's show of force would give me time to get my shoe off.

Strangely, between Appelis the diplomat and Andy the berserk Scottish lunatic the crowd quieted down to a point where Iqbal and I with a few volunteers were able to clear the road of debris. It seemed that Appelis had promised that the body of Imbackey would be driven to this very point on the highway the very next day as it continued its journey to the burial site in Kundiawa, a further 50 miles up the road.

Andy's vigorous bashing of the PMV passengers was just fine with the mob since they were all from tribes further up the route and richly deserved to be bashed for that reason alone. That accomplished we climbed back into our vehicle and proceeded to the riot.

We pulled into Minj a few minutes later and to my monumental relief there was nobody around. Apparently it only takes about ten minutes to sack a tiny town like Minj and we were late by a half hour. I was all in favor of staying for the remainder of the afternoon and writing down everything that had been looted right down to the last peanut.

Andy however would be damned if he was going to miss a good insurrection so it was back to Hagen for the "Four Boneheads of the Apocalypse". On the way the radio crackled again. 50 prisoners had escaped from the Baiyer River Correctional Center and by golly we were only five minutes away. I would not say that the joy was unrestrained in our little vehicle.

Andy was elated, Appelis was deadpan, Iqbal started muttering in some Sikh dialect and my guts turned from ice water to liquid nitrogen. Now instead of dealing with ordinary citizens in an ugly mood and prone to violence we were going to seek out some thieves, murderers and rapists to interact with. I made a mental note to rip the wires out of the police radio. This was turning out to be a truly ****ty day.

When we arrived in the prison compound we were directed to the head guard who informed us that most of the prisoners had been rounded up and returned to their cells by the guards. Only 13 prisoners were unaccounted for and the guards were still searching the area. We were directed to a rendevous point outside the gate where another group of reserves had gathered preparing to join the search.

Andy kindly gave me his .45 caliber automatic pistol before we struck off into the jungle having judged that the tape holding my shotgun together was looking a little frayed. The tape wasn't the only thing frayed I can assure you but at least in the jungle I could hide behind a tree until it was over.

On the way down a tiny footpath I met a prison guard who was frog marching a stark naked prisoner back to our staging point. He carried no weapon other than a rough cut 2x2 about the length of a baseball bat. I was somewhat puzzled about the man's state of undress and questioned his guard:

"bilas bilong em i stap we?" (where are his clothes?) I asked. "Mi rausim em," (I took them) was his reply.

Apparently all the prisoners were stripped as soon as they were captured on the theory that they wouldn't try and escape again if they were naked. The prisoner, whose eyes were cast toward the ground, turned his head slightly to get a look at me. In a quick motion the guard swung his 2x2 and caught the escapee on the side of the head opening up a cut over his ear that would require 15 or more stitches if such a luxury were available. I had a feeling it wouldn't be.

One after the other guards marched naked prisoners back along the narrow footpath. Each bore some grievous injury inflicted by the guard's primitive but effective weapons. I was to learn that the prison guards were in danger of losing their jobs over the escape and were making sure that there would be second thoughts if such action was contemplated in the future.

I had seen enough. The fear that I felt at the thought of confronting one of these prisoners was replaced by revulsion. Here was third world justice at its most primal. Back at the pickup truck the scene was awash in blood and naked men. The guards were laying them in the back of the truck like cordwood.

One man lying prone raised his butt in the air to make room for another victim. The guard standing over him in the truck drove a pointed stick he was using to prod the prisoners into the man's anus. Blood gushed from his ruptured back passage. I would like to think that I was the type of person who would intervene to stop the brutality.

I'm not. I was outnumbered by the guards and too intimidated to take action. I went to our vehicle and put my head between my knees. It was the only time in my life that I felt like I might faint. I had seen my share of dead bodies, stabbing and gunshot victims and even victims of ax murderers (including myself) while on the force. What I had never seen before was an utter contempt for a helpless fellow human.

We trailed the pickup truck back inside the prison walls. The prisoners were dragged off the back of the truck and lay feigning unconsciousness in the afternoon sun. They had learned earlier that the slightest movement was met with a blow from the club. The heads of some of the men were unrecognizable.

The sharp edges of the 2x2 clubs had left ears dangling, smashed noses and teeth and opened severe gashes. One of the guards said that “Paia Mek” was one of the men in the heap on the ground. Paia Mek was infamous in PNG. He was rumored to be the criminal who axed my hand a few months previous and later the same evening had killed a security guard in a nearby industrial area.

I walked into the middle of the prone prisoners to where he lay. I lifted his woolly head by the hair and stared into his swollen face. There was no way I could have recognized my assailant.

A helicopter came over the site and hovered about 30 feet off the ground. I could see the newspaper photographer with one foot on a strut pointing his camera our way. I quickly stepped back out of the picture that was to appear on the front page of the Post-Courier, PNG's one national daily newspaper. I wasn't too proud of myself that day and not interested in publicizing my presence.

I stayed on the force for two years until we moved to the island province of New Ireland. I was still a member of the force but due to the pacific nature of New Ireland my services were no longer necessary. I don’t think I was a very good cop, but I made arrests, got shot at once, did my duty and played a role, albeit a small one in bringing some order to my town.


You can email Jim Austin at shorty@sover.net
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Posted here with permission by Jim Austin 31st January 2004
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Old 01-02-2004, 02:17 AM
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aussie aussie is offline
Pls help me to help PNG
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Want to read more, then CLICK HERE:

Gail Thomas
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Old 01-02-2004, 10:28 AM
troppo troppo is offline
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great yarn!

from the 'only in PNG' file
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Old 13-10-2004, 11:38 AM
wendyemc wendyemc is offline
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Great story! Visited Hagen a couple of times in the mid-60's during my 15 years growing up in PNG. Those were the days of Tom Ellis, apparently a man who brooked no nonsense from anyone, regardless of creed, colour or politics. My husband, Bob, who was a bank johnny then with the Commonwealth in Hagen, and the reason for my visits, has a store of good yarns about him. Like the time two female tourist arrived in town in shorts and were put on the next plane out. Or the time there was a late-night riot at the airstrip after alcohol was first introduced to the indigenous population. Things were getting out of hand between the Hagens and the Wabagers when Tom arrived in his dressing gown and slippers. He said, Okay who's leading this little ruckus?" Some fool stepped foward and Tom knocked him cold as a maggot. "Okay, who's next?" No sooner had another fool stepped forward than he too bit the dust. "Anyone else?" No takers, just a bit of foot shuffling and head hanging before the mob downed spears and began to disperse. Tom turned on his heel and stalked off, but not before having a go at his patrol officers. "Next time you blokes get me out of bed in the middle of the night, make sure it's for something important!"

On my first visit to Hagen, Bob arrived back from Porgera just before my plane touched down. He asked me to sit on a wooden suitcase he was carrying while he went to the loo. Turns out I was sitting on $60,000 worth of gold nuggets, back when gold was pegged at $35 an ounce. He flew out regularly to buy gold, which was supposedly thick on the ground; the story went that it was so plentiful that if a nugget was too small to pick up with your toes you left it lying right where it was.
Wendy Clarke (formerly Wendy Phillips)
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Old 20-07-2010, 10:21 AM
sanguma67 sanguma67 is offline
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Location: 19/449 Jackson St,Petone,Lower Hutt,New Zealand
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Reserve Police in Mt Hagen-Jim Austin

Hi Jim,
Yeah,we were the first intake of Reserves in Hagen in 1987,and although we were sneered at in some quarters,after training i felt that we did a lot of good.
I was in Squad 3 with Neville Boag and Charlie Kami,and i well remember all the Rambo and quite scary moment we all got up to!
I stayed in afterwards,and both Neville and myself did 20 years with the RPNGC,including a stint with the reserve Mobile Squad based in Moresby,as did Barry Cormack.
Please feel free to communicate if you want,along with other ex members,
Kind Regards
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Old 07-02-2013, 12:26 PM
talepeddlerjo talepeddlerjo is offline
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Loved this story. Very funny but also dark and moving in places.
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Old 19-03-2018, 08:57 PM
JLee JLee is offline
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Originally Posted by sanguma67 View Post
Hi Jim,
Yeah,we were the first intake of Reserves in Hagen in 1987,and although we were sneered at in some quarters,after training i felt that we did a lot of good.
I was in Squad 3 with Neville Boag and Charlie Kami,and i well remember all the Rambo and quite scary moment we all got up to!
I stayed in afterwards,and both Neville and myself did 20 years with the RPNGC,including a stint with the reserve Mobile Squad based in Moresby,as did Barry Cormack.
Please feel free to communicate if you want,along with other ex members,
Kind Regards
Hi Nick,
Just wondering if you remember Pat & Lyn Casely. Pat worked for WR Carpenters Estates and was also with the Reserve the same time as you and for many years. We lost touch and would love to reconnect with them. Lyn worked with us at Four Mile.
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