IT’s a long way from the leafy lanes of Hexhamshire to the steamy jungles of Papua New Guinea.

And while life in the Shire may have its downsides, it is unlikely residents of Whitley Chapel will find themselves confronted by an angry native, standing ten feet away with bow at full draw, arrow nocked and pointed at their chest.

But that is exactly what happened to Robert Forster, who spent much of his 20s working on the South Pacific island as it struggled to throw off the trappings of European influence and establish itself as an independent nation.

It was a formidable task, as the island – the second biggest in the world – was largely populated by warring tribes and clans, speaking something like 800 different languages, where disputes were often settled by axe and machete rather than chats across the negotiating table.

Some tribes were only a couple of steps beyond the Stone Age, with little or no concept of life outside their immediate environs.

Robert was a bush administrator, known in Pidgin English as a Kiap, and he has recorded his unique experiences on the far side of the world in a new book called The Northumbrian Kiap.

The changes sweeping through PNG could be compared with those sweeping through Tynedale, where young people were being forced out of their villages as available homes were snapped up by well-heeled incomers, often as holiday homes.

Robert’s journey, from enjoying pints of Scotch at the Shire’s much- missed Click Em Inn and playing rugby for Tynedale, to the Tropics began when as a university drop out, he was accepted by the London-based Voluntary Service Overseas organisation.

In 1968, he was posted to supervise work at a sawmill in the Bismark Highlands at the heart of the rain forest, based on a few days work at a sawmill in Slaley Forest.

A series of hair-raising flights on smaller and smaller aircraft brought him to Bundi, where one of his first encounters with the locals was a chance meeting with an elderly woman, her face caked in yellow mud, towing a piglet on a length of string.

Within a month, Robert had learned to speak Pidgin, the lingua franca of the island. He writes: “I found it indispensable. It helped me converse freely, even delicately, and certainly humorously, with most of PNG’s people.

“For those like myself, who had picked it up in the bush and not from other Europeans, who often abused it, there were huge advantages.

“Few Europeans could speak Pidgin straightforwardly.

“Some would tune their larynxes to a falsetto tone and deliver in sing-song.

“Many treated it like baby language and spoke in super simple phrases, again in a high pitched voice.

“My own approach was to speak normally, and that seemed to work. A personal favourite piece of Pidgin is the description of our beloved monarch as Missus Kwin”

Life at Bundi was far from idyllic, with regular encounters with leeches, which could only be removed with a lit cigarette, and on one occasion, with a death adder, which a co-worker killed with a swipe of his bush knife before scooping up the corpse to eat later.

When his time with VSO was up, Robert went to Australia and enrolled on a Kiap course which resulted in him returning to PNG in 1972 with his new bride Paula, as her Majesty’s representative in the district of Minj.

There followed many arduous patrols round remote villages, sorting out disputes about pigs, wives and minor assaults, and even supervising elections, where votes were sometimes cast by electors pointing at pictures of the various candidates. More dramatic was the resolving of hostilities between the warring Kambilika and Tangilka clans, where Robert was at the centre of a clash between warriors armed to the teeth in full battle array.

It was here that Robert found himself staring death in the face, as he was confronted by a bare-chested bowman whose hut Robert had just burned down.

“The bowstring was drawn back to his ear and an arrow was pointing at my chest,” he said.

“I braced myself, because even if I was hit, I had the silly notion that I might still be able to capture him.

“We stared at each other for many seconds and then he was gone.

“He could not have missed, so he may have baulked at the thought of attacking a Kiap, or afraid of being gunned down by the riot squad.”

The beginning of the end of Robert’s time in PNG came when another posting to the back of beyond came, and his wife Paula, pregnant with their third child, had had enough of the perils of being a Kiap’s wife

A Northumbrian Kiap is available from Hexham book shops Cogito and Waterstones and Forum Books in Corbridge.