Hunter was born in Adelaide in 1871 and served three years in the South Australian Infantry during the Boer War (1899-1902). He married in 1905 and was an accountant at the time of enlistment in the AN&MEF in October 1914. He was immediately given the rank of Sergeant, promoted to Lieutenant a year later and to Captain in April 1917. Although Hunter proved himself a conscientious and hard-working officer during his service with the AN&MEF, he had joined the Force with a blot on his record. He had been imprisoned for 18 months during 1912-13 at Yatala, South Australia, for embezzlement during his employment as an accountant.[i]
When he arrived in Rabaul in December 1914, he was first assigned as Director of the Garrison Store, Rabaul and took leave to Australia in 1916. He was appointed as District Officer at Kieta from January to November 1917 and days prior to a second period of leave in December 1917, an article praising Hunter’s administrative work in Bougainville appeared under the authorship of T.J. McMahon, Brisbane. He described Hunter as: a keen soldier, and a most successful administrator. Capt. Hunter comes from Adelaide, and South Australians will one day have reason to be proud of their countryman, when the history of Australian Administration is written.[ii]
On return to New Guinea, he was appointed District Officer at Aitape from March 1918. He remained there until he came back to Australia for discharge early 1919. On 31 December 1918, Brigadier-General George Johnston sent a farewell letter to Hunter: ‘[I] desire to place on record my keen appreciation of the valuable services you have rendered while serving with the AN&ME Force, particularly . . . when as District Officer at Eitape you did such excellent service’.
After returning to Adelaide in 1919, he donated 20 items to the South Australian Museum and the Museum purchased from him a further 302. Most of these items most likely were collected by Hunter himself while he was patrolling from Kieta in Bougainville and Aitape on the north coast of the Sepik region. However, some are clearly from other locations not known to have been visited by Hunter prior to 1919 (such as the Morobe district, the south-east coast of New Britain, New Ireland, Manus, and the small islands to the west). He may have obtained these from other servicemen.
In early 1919, at least three newspaper articles were published about his experiences in New Guinea. Hunter had rather extreme views. The Evening Journal (Adelaide) of February 15, 1919, reported him saying:
I trust only one class of German-born Germans, those who have been dead for a week. Love of country is hammered into them with a mailed fist. They can’t help lying and cheating for their native land.
In 1921, after a failed business venture in South Australia, he re-enlisted for service in the newly-created civil administration of New Guinea and was appointed as District Officer, Kokopo (near Rabaul), then District Officer, Manus, in July 1922, and transferred to Kavieng in April 1923. In February 1928 he was posted to Madang and during that time he led a patrol ‘across the Bismarck Mountains to the interior of New Guinea, 1930-31’. [iii] Afterwards, he was transferred to Rabaul for a short time and retired to South Australia in 1932.
He died in 1948 and the next year 153 items were donated to the South Australian Museum by his son Reginald. Most of these things seem to have been collected by Hunter during his times as District Officer in Manus, Kavieng and Madang.
One of the newspaper articles published in 1919 includes a photograph of Hunter (Fig. 1). His appearance is stern. This corresponds with observations made by J.K. McCarthy who, as a young patrol officer, arrived in Madang in 1930. He writes (1963:40): The District Officer, Affable Alf Hunter, was a fierce-looking man with white hair and sharp teeth. Whether his sharp teeth had anything to do with his reputation for being a biter I don’t know, but his greeting to me was merely perfunctory. Within five minutes he had put me to work . . . But he made it clear by his tone that he didn’t really believe I would be much help at anything.
Of the 475 things acquired from Hunter and his son by the South Australian Museum, 375 are arrows, bows, spears, clubs, stone tools, domestic items, fish hooks and spinning tops from nearly all the administrative districts of German New Guinea. Unfortunately much of the collection is identified only to district and sometimes incorrectly (such as ‘Aitape district’). Here I will present only a small selection of the more significant objects.
Two carved human figures (Fig. 2) from Angel Island, 25 kilometres east of Aitape, are interesting in that the rectangular holes at their base suggests they are components of a construction of some kind. Sea-going outrigger canoes at Berlinhafen (Aitape) had small carved figures fastened upright at the bow and stern (Neuhauss 1911, Plates 253-5) so it is possible that this male and female pair was employed in this way to gain the protection of the spirits.
Also from Angel Island is a shield (Fig. 3). This is the kind of shield carried on the forearm by a rigid handle and used in conjunction with spears. Front and rear of this shield are illustrated in Beran & Craig (2005, Figure 3.18). Shields like this were made in the region of the lower Sepik-Ramu and were widely traded via the north coast maritime network.
The hollowed-out form of the shield associates it with the canoe hull, and the carved design of spirals and geometric elements link it with the carved designs on outrigger canoe strakes and on slit- gongs. In 1992, Helen Dennett surveyed and documented carved designs on slit-gongs of the Schouten Islands and the north coast of the Sepik-Ramu region (unpublished MS) and she notes that the pairs of spirals either side of a zoomorphic form is interpreted at Murik Lakes as the body of a spider with its web on either side. Beier and Aris report that the spider (mabranarogo) ‘. . . is the perfect designer. The fine, precise lines of its web and the intricacy of the design it produces symbolize the kind of perfection the carver himself is aiming at’ (1975:17).
A small mask from the middle Sepik (Fig. 4) is probably the kind of mask attached to a ‘tumbuan’ dance costume (awan). The awan masks cover the whole body of the wearer and usually feature a large face at the top; some have two or even three faces. The additional face(s) are smaller and attached to the body of the mask below the large face at the top. There are arm holes on either side, usually covered with a flap, and holes in the body of the mask, often coinciding with eye holes in the lower mask, for the wearer to see through. A thick fibre skirt, usually dyed red, is attached at the bottom of the body of the mask to cover the wearer’s legs. As the wearer’s head is usually lower than the neck of the mask, the masquerade appears much larger than life.
The awan masks are used for chastising youths going through skin scarification. They are not secret-sacred masks and are often found hanging up in family houses. They are given personal, presumably ancestral, names and the primary face represents that person. Bateson notes that the awan masks are worn by the nephews and fathers-in- law of the clan whose youths are being initiated and to which the masks belong.
The woven rattan mask called didagur by the people of Kapriman on the Blackwater River, a southern tributary of the Sepik, is an unexpected item in Hunter’s collection (Fig. 5). The Blackwater River does not seem a likely candidate of interest for a District Officer based at Aitape at that time. However, there may be another explanation.
The Berlin Museum has one (VI 10 565) collected from ‘Middle Sepik’ in 1888 (Kelm 1966, Plate 89). Two collected at ‘Pamungri’ (= Mindimbit) and one at ‘293 km village’ (= Angerman), near the junction of the Karawari and Sepik rivers, are illustrated by Reche (1913, Taf. LXXIX, Nrs 4, 5; Taf. LXXX, Nr 1).
There are also two in the museum in Munich, one collected by Joseph Hartl 1912-13 from the Iatmul-speaking village of Kararau, and the other collected by him from the Angoram-speaking village of Kanduanam, a considerable distance downstream (Olig 2008, Abb. 26, 27). It is evident that these masks were traded to a range of villages of the east Iatmul and west Angoram-speaking peoples or stolen in warfare.
Haberland and Seyfarth (1974) recorded most of these masks at the Yimar villages of the Wogupmeri River, a tributary of the upper Karawari River. From there, the masks, called morwinǝgar by the Yimar, may have been traded north to the Kapriman-speaking Blackwater River villages. These basketry masks have two forms: long-nosed (male) and short-nosed (female). They were used in the initiation of youths and represented bush spirits.[i] The Advertiser, Adel. 2 October 1912, p.15. [ii] Observer, Adel. 1 December 1917, p.19. [iii] Unpublished MS in South Australian Museum Archives AA145. Also in this archive is Hunter’s unpublished MS, ‘Some Experiences of a District Officer in the Mandated Territory of New Guinea’, and a large number of photographs.