New Zealand Police have a special relationship with Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea after the 10-year civil war where peace was achieved by the New Zealand Defence Force's "haka and guitars" mission. Their ongoing relationship has meant many Kiwi police have been deployed to the island to assist the Bougainville Police. Waihi Leader caught up with Waihi Police Sergeant Craig Thorne who has returned from a year-long stint in Bougainville in March.
What made you decide on deployment to Bougainville?
A deployment was something I had always wanted to do as I am a bit of an adventurer at heart and love going to new places, but when you go on holiday you don't get the true culture. With a deployment you get the raw deal. You get to see the true hardships and the true nature of the people and in this case they were some of the kindest loveliest people I have ever met, yet most of them didn't even have a pair of shoes to their names.
How did New Zealand come to play a role in Bougainville?
New Zealand played a role in Bougainville after there was a civil war over the copper mine called Panguna. The locals eventually had enough of all the poisons leaching into their land and ran off the Australians running the mine. This started the civil war which went from 1988 to 1998.
In all, 15-20,0000 Bougainville locals were killed in this time. In 1997 peace talks were held and the peace agreement was signed and implemented in 2001.
Along with this was the New Zealand Defence Force 'haka and guitars', where the Kiwi army went to Bougainville armed only with guitars and haka which is how the great relationship with New Zealand was sealed. New Zealand Police (NZP) have been there for approximately 18 years mentoring the Bougainville Police.
Part of the peace agreement was that a referendum for independence had to be held by a certain time. The date for this is November this year, so this is a big year for Bougainville and another date that will make history.
What were you tasked with?
NZP are there to advise the Bougainville Police in their day-to-day running of the stations and trying to build their knowledge around practical policing. NZP has also implemented the Community Auxiliary Police which are village members voted by their village to "police" their village, they are part time and live in the jungle away from the main centres. This is a big part of NZP getting this up and running, assisting to deliver awareness at the villages.
What are the main issues police face there?
The main issues are corruption from the national level with funding. They are so under resourced.
The issues are still "village justice" where a lot of sexual abuse, murders etc happen and the villages know no different, which is where CAPS and the awareness come into play so they are aware there is a police force in Bougainville as many villages do not know of any law. Remember there are no phone lines, postal service, little cellphone and internet, in fact none in the villages, and no power in the villages.
Could you sum up the experience?
My experience in Bougainville was a humbling one. I made several lifelong friends (locals), I found that a simple life can be so rewarding without the latest pair of shoes, a mall or a flash house. I loved my experience, although the downside was being away from family and friends.
I like to think that I was able to help Bougainville out in some little way while I was there. I certainly took a piece of their country home in my heart.
Where did you stay?
Our living conditions were very good, living in a house shared with other NZP members with all the comforts of home. You cook your own meals with most of you food coming from the local markets. The fruit has so much flavour as they are naturally ripened and have no added chemicals and are picked and eaten the same day. We were lucky enough to have power most of the time or a backup generator. From about 11pm-6am we would go without which can be hot at times with the overnight lows of about 29 degrees.
What are the people like there? Did you feel safe?
The Bougainvilleans are different to most Papua New Guinea people and are a very loving race. I met several of the ex-combatants that were the leaders of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army. When you sit and chat you can understand why they did what they did in the time of the civil war but at heart they are peaceful.
As yet hard drugs are not present on the island, in fact I felt safer there than in New Zealand although — like everywhere in the world — you pick your times and places to go.
What is the landscape like?
Bougainville has a beautiful landscape surrounded by ocean and covered in the greenest green jungle you can imagine with thousands of coconut trees perching out the top.
Describe what you did on a regular day ...
The weeks were pretty much the same, work Monday to Friday, generally do some form of exercise to fill the time after work, bearing in mind it was mid to high 30s during the day.
Weekends would include watching a bit of TV, maybe some gardening or on the odd occasion off to a little island called Pokpok (which means crocodile as the island resembles a crocodile).
From there I was lucky enough on two occasions to go for a surf and a paddle board as there were some magical surf breaks over the most amazing untouched reefs you will find anywhere in the world.
The people and how far behind they are to the rest of the world was what amazed me the most. I am not saying that is a bad thing at all though, as the kids still play in the street with whatever they have or can find, no screen time, no worries and go home when it's dark or they are hungry.
What did you miss about home?
Family is what I most missed about home and leaving your life behind for a year as life at home carries on without you. As for food it would have been chocolate but then I needed to be weaned off that anyway!
I would definitely do it all again. I would love to do it with my partner so she could see for herself the beauty of the place and all it has to offer.