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Simoi (1877–1934)

by James Griffin

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Simoi (c.1877-1934), policeman, son of Gidau, was born at Katatai village, Kiwai Island, at the mouth of the Fly River, Papua. In 1898 he joined Sir William MacGregor's armed constabulary ('savages in serge') comprising 110 Papuans, with Western ('Kiwai') division warriors notably prominent; they spoke English because of Torres Strait connexions. The Kiwai, said (Sir) Hubert Murray, were 'frequently … more fitted to exercise control of others than the majority of Papuans'—and they believed it. Simoi received ten shillings a month in his first year, then £1. He remembered being 'a lance-corporal when Queen Victoria died'.

In a highly effective force Simoi's courage and what Murray called his 'strong character' and 'marked personality' raised him quickly to sergeant. He took part in expeditions avenging James Chalmers and 'pacifying' mountain regions. In 1905 with Corporal Kaubu he was responsible for keeping the administrator, F. R. Barton, and Murray afloat when their whaleboat capsized at the treacherous Vailala bar. Simoi led the crew battling combers for nearly an hour before reaching clear water. 'In such perilous situations', said Barton, patronizingly, 'one sees the Papuan at his best. He rises to the occasion'. Murray remarked 'how extremely difficult it was to persuade these two Papuans that they had done anything worth talking about'.

Simoi, however, could not rise much higher. In 1905 when few Papuans could hold responsible jobs, he looked for better opportunities as an overseer (boss-boi) in the Central division of Papua but returned in 1912 to become a 'thoroughly dependable' sergeant-major at headquarters, Port Moresby, in May 1913 at £5 a month, training recruits as well as occasionally going on frontier patrols. Jack Hides saw him as 'soldierly' and 'lovable'. His failings, which were 'never of a mean rank', were cards and women. Recruits were wise to give him some of their first pay. Tall, well-built, with typically Kiwai-Semitic features and both ears in tatters, Simoi was yet the epitome of the 'Tommy sergeant-major', 'perfect in company drill', swaggering on parade with his sulu tucked short and cane underarm. 'What this? A bloody pumpkin?' he would ask, tapping a head. 'You think you can sit down all day like a white man?' In mufti on Saturday afternoons, 'like a staff officer in his car' taking salutes from every guard, he rode his bicycle out of town to chew betel-nut and play cards with Kiwai boss-bois.

As the oldest policeman and the first to reach warrant officer rank, he was honoured in the 'new issue' Papuan 1932 black and olive-brown five-shilling stamp. While on leave at Katatai he developed pneumonia. Brought to Daru for treatment, he died on 28 February 1934. He was buried at Katatai with full military honours, 'a compliment which, if he could have foreseen it', Murray wrote confidently in his annual report, 'would have more than made up for all the pains and inconveniences of sickness'. Papua had lost a loyal officer while he had lost a good friend.

Select Bibliography

  • J. H. P. Murray, Papua or British New Guinea (Lond, 1912)
  • J. G. Hides, Papuan Wonderland (Lond, 1936)
  • J. G. Hides, Savages in Serge (Syd, 1938)
  • M. Franklin, Franklin's Guide to the Stamps of Papua and New Guinea (Syd, 1970)
  • British New Guinea Annual Report, 1904-05
  • Papua Annual Report, 1933-34
  • Pacific Islands Monthly, July 1932, May 1934
  • Papuan Villager, 6, no 2, 1934
  • Papuan Courier, 23 Mar 1934.

Citation details

James Griffin, 'Simoi (1877–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/simoi-8428/text14811, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 23 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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