Pat on the back

Pat Dwyer proudly holds up the special medal he received for his work as a patrol officer in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Picture: Emma Reeves www.communitypix.com.au d405194
Pat Dwyer proudly holds up the special medal he received for his work as a patrol officer in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Picture: Emma Reeves www.communitypix.com.au d405194

The retiree has many memories of his role with the Royal Papua and New Guinea Constabulary or ‘the backbone of the bush’ from 1957 to 1964.

These ranged from taking census figures and walking a mobile polling booth through the bush to magistrate’s duties and helping control tribal fighting.

Mr Dwyer said a particular highlight was working with those ‘who made it into the history books’ ” the gold prospecting Leahy brothers, early patrol officer Jim Taylor, WWII fighter pilot Bobby Gibbes and then student Michael Somari, who was to become Prime Minister of PNG.

‘These are people I would never have met in Australia,’ he said.

Mr Dwyer was among 90 ex-Australian patrol officers to receive the Australian Federal Police overseas service medal for their work in the territory, at a service at Parliament House in Canberra on July 8.

‘I was very proud on the day,’ he said of the presentation, which recognised officers’ work maintaining order and stability from 1949 to 1973.

Tasmanian-born Mr Dwyer said his time in the territory had been tough but memorable ” from a confrontation with a tribal group in war paint carrying arrows, to a 62-day patrol in the Eastern Highlands without communication.

‘There was no radio, no airdrops, no roads,’ he said.

‘I was looking for small groups of people who had been missed (by earlier patrols) so we could record who they were.

‘I spent two years at an outstation, the only European there with a small staff of local police officers and interpreters. The only time I spoke English was on the radio but it was a good way to get to know the people better.’

Mr Dwyer has been back to PNG once since leaving in 1975 after 11 years as a business development officer, helping locals set up small businesses and co-operatives to market such local produce as coffee and cocoa.

‘I took my eldest son back and the people remembered me by my nickname which, in pidgin English, was Diwai,’ he said.

‘Word spread through the villages and even the head men came to see me. They are very friendly people.’