PROFESSIONAL CAREER - PAPUA AND NEW GUINEA

Government Service as a Crown prosecutor in the Australian Territories of Papua and New Guinea

In 1961, the author took up an appointment as a Crown prosecutor in the Australian Territories of Papua and New Guinea. Most of his work was travelling as a circuit prosecutor with the Supreme Court to court towns on the northern and southern coasts, in the highlands, and to islands off the south coast of Papua. It was Australian government policy to bring the administration of civilised justice to the remotest corners of Papua and New Guinea. At over 270 scheduled "court towns", the local native people would assemble to watch the ceremonial opening of the Supreme Court on Circuit. The scarlet robed judge would inspect the native constabulary guard of honour, and then the court would open for business. The means of travel included "Catalina" PBY flying boat, Canadian-built De Havilland "Otter" and "Beaver" aircraft, single-engine Cessna aircraft, government trawlers, and small motor boats.

The hazards of flying in small aircraft over and between towering mountain ranges without any of the modern navigational aids that are taken for granted in Australia left the author with an enduring dislike of flying. Only the incredible skill of the pilots saved our lives in the rugged mountains when sudden tropical storms lashed our fragile aircraft or when cloud cover came down to ground level before we had reached our destination. Many of the pilots the author had flown with died when their aircraft flew into the sides of mountains in conditions of zero visibility.

The author (in black court robe) has arrived in the Highlands of New Guinea for a Supreme Court Circuit. From left, he is shown with the native interpreter, the Patrol Officer, baggage carrier, and native Constable. The court party has flown in the elderly fabric covered De Havilland "Beaver".

The seas around New Guinea could be equally dangerous and unpredictable during the cyclone (hurricane) season. After an uneventful trawler voyage across a glassy emerald sea to the glorious Trobriand Islands in 1965, the court party was returning to the mainland when its small craft ran into an unheralded cyclone after clearing Goodenough Island. The native skipper called down to the judge that the sea was becoming too rough to continue and that he would have to turn back to the shelter of Goodenough Island which now lay about three kilometres behind us.

During the turn, the small boat caught the full force of the storm on its starboard beam. Huge waves crashed over the deck, and the boat heeled over until the port handrail was under water. With the deck tilted at a 45 degree angle, the judge and his wife were washed off the hatch cover and only saved by the handrail. Having no lifejacket, and confronted with the very real prospect of drowning, the author clutched a metal stanchion and resorted to prayer. The defence counsel was washed over the side, but managed to retain a grip on the handrail. He was still clinging to the rail with most of his body in the sea when a second huge wave crashed across the deck. In the lull before a third wave struck, the author and the judge's associate were able to reach him and haul him back onto the deck. With its stern now presented to the storm front, the trawler was able to reach the safety of Goodenough Island. The very fortunate defence counsel went on to become a senior Minister of the Crown in an Australian Federal government. The author swore that he would never go to sea in a small boat again, and kept that promise!

The Crown prosecutor (the author) conducts a pre-trial interview with a victim at Minj in the New Guinea Highlands. Two interpreters were usually necessary .The Patrol Officer is translating from English to Pidgin-English. The native interpreter is translating from Pidgin-English to local dialect.

Travel destinations in New Guinea ranged from the humid, snake-infested swamps of the Fly River to the magnificent Trobriand Islands set in the crystal green waters off the eastern coast of Papua. However, most of the author's time was spent travelling with Supreme Court parties to court towns in the mountains that occupy most of the island of New Guinea beyond the coastal fringes. Here, civilisation had only touched lightly the primitive mountain tribes, and axe and arrow still settled most disputes. An eternal Spring reigned over magnificent rain forests and picture-book scenery that stood in sharp contrast to the seemingly never-ending parade of brutal axe murderers and rapists who appeared to receive the judgment of the Supreme Court on circuit.

The Supreme Court convenes at Kagua in the Highlands to judge three local men charged with murder. The judge is facing the camera. The Crown prosecutor (the author) is addressing the court. The defence counsel is seated next to the three accused men who are standing to stretch their legs.

When in Port Moresby, Crown prosecutors provided advice to Assistant District Officers and Patrol Officers concerning investigation of serious crime in their Districts and the sufficiency of evidence to support serious charges. To advise patrol officers without police training, a Crown prosecutor needed to acquire some expertise in technical aspects of crime investigation such as firearm and fingerprint evidence, crime scene protection, and correct procedures for collecting and transmitting exhibits.

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