On Prime Minister Albanese's visit to Papua New Guinea in January, his counterpart Prime Minister James Marape acknowledged the role that Australians called "Kiaps" played in PNG's development. "They came and walked the hinterlands of this country, the highlands, we just want to appreciate them," the Prime Minister said. As Marape aptly put it, they are "the forgotten generation".
Who are the Kiaps and why are they remembered so fondly?
Very few Australians could answer that question in a weekend quiz. And even fewer would have ever met a Kiap. This is unfortunate because theirs is a story of extraordinary courage that still goes unrecognised, landing in a blind spot of the history of Australia's relationship with PNG.
Kiaps were Australian government officials who patrolled Papua New Guinea's remote regions from 1878 to 1978. They helped administer rural Papua as an Australian territory inherited from Great Britain, and New Guinea as a League of Nations mandate and then a United Nations trust territory.
They were a group of hardy Australian patrol officers who provided basic services to Papua New Guineans including security and administration over generations. And yet, they were not even granted an obscure corner of our collective memory. To this day they are indeed the forgotten generation.
As a lecturer who taught the first intake of post-war civilian Kiaps told them at a Sydney training facility in 1947: "Your task is to work yourself out of a job". In the 1960s, Kiaps started in earnest assisting PNG to transition to independence, which is why they are still so well perceived locally.
Theirs was a dangerous job. As field officers, these young Australian men worked in often isolated and hazardous circumstances. The Kiaps' mortality rate was as high as 4.25 per cent, compared to 1.04 per cent for Australians serving in the Vietnam War.
Of the 2000 Kiaps who served, 88 died from violence, disease, losses at sea, aircraft crashes, volcanic eruptions, and executions by the Japanese during WWII. The Kiaps received no recognition for this. The government didn't repatriate their remains. Families were left to deal with that.
And now, just as the last Australian veteran of the Gallipoli campaign died in 2002, we will lose the last living connection to an incredible chapter of Australian and PNG history in the near future. There are around 300 surviving Kiaps today from the cohort of 1400 who served in PNG after the war.
Too long left in the shadows of our collective memory, the Kiaps deserve some form of recognition.
What the Kiaps did for PNG is today called nation-building. While there remain sensitivities given the legacies of Australia's colonial past in the Pacific, I'm confident that this shared history can serve to strengthen our indispensable partnership of equals with Papua New Guinea.
Before Marape, other local leaders recognised the Kiaps' contribution to PNG's development. These included the Bougainvillean politician and diplomat Dr Alexis Sarei and former prime ministers Sir Julius Chan and Sir Michael Somare, who invited some Kiaps to stay after independence.
One way to show the Kiaps the nation's gratitude would be to build a memorial in Canberra commemorating those who died during their service. The majority of Kiaps support this initiative. They also support a memorial in Sydney at the school where Kiaps studied before deploying.
The Canberra memorial could be located on Lake Burley Griffin, in a shady grove overlooking the National Carillon and the National Police Memorial. Surviving Kiaps ask for nothing extravagant or expensive, only a nook of the national imagination and memory.
There are bureaucratic obstacles to realising this vision, but the biggest obstacle may be cultural.
In the 1970s, many returning officers were made to feel that "Kiap" was a dirty word. Some associated them with Australian colonialism. Colleagues advised them to conceal their work as Kiaps. Some might feel more comfortable perpetuating this tradition of denial and to let us forget.
But how could we feel at ease saluting our fallen ANZACs, police officers, firies and all first responders with a solemn promise to never forget them while leaving Kiaps in total obscurity? That would be unjust. And it would leave another piece of our national story incomplete.
There is growing bipartisan support for commemorating the fallen Kiaps in a way that sensitively includes Papua New Guinea, without whose meaningful involvement this initiative cannot succeed. I endorse the proposal for a memorial to fallen Kiaps, lest these brave Australians be forgotten.
'I have always appreciated your ever-ready helping hand,' a memorial might read, quoting Dr. Sarei's tribute to his Kiaps. 'I will always remember you...with great respect...On behalf of the Government [of Papua New Guinea], the people and myself, thank you.' It's time Australia also said thank you.
- Luke Gosling OAM MP is the Federal Member for Solomon