Thoughts on the future of PNG education
ANU ensures that axe hangs over the forests

Extraordinary events become a fine history

Not a Poor Mans Field MICHAEL WATERHOUSE’s Not a Poor Man’s Field explores Australia's colonial experience in New Guinea before World War II - a unique but little known period in Australia’s and PNG’s history.

This is a dramatic account of small miners, an extraordinarily rich gold discovery, visionaries and the construction of giant dredges, power stations and townships in a remote jungle area.

It is also the story of how risk-taking pilots, flying aeroplanes ranging from single engine plywood biplanes to large Junkers G31 freighters, opened up an otherwise impenetrable country. New Guinea led the world in commercial aviation throughout the 1930s; world records were often set and as often broken.

In an innovative approach, Michael Waterhouse uses the New Guinea goldfields as a prism through which to analyse Australia’s colonial experience from economic, social, ethnographic and political/administrative perspectives.

The book discusses early encounters between villagers and Europeans from both white and black perspectives, as well as the indentured labour system which drew New Guineans to the goldfields from all over the country.

Other themes include the camaraderie of white settlers in an alien environment, race relations in a colonial society, the ineffectiveness of Australia’s administration of New Guinea under a League of Nations mandate and the Japanese invasion and its consequences.

The book takes a multi-disciplinary approach, analysing the colonial experience from economic, social, ethnographic and political/administrative perspectives. It also conveys a compelling sense of time and place by extensively quoting participants, both black and white, and through the judicious selection of old photographs.

The book conveys a compelling sense of time and place through the use of many first hand accounts. This is not simply a white man’s story, with many of the events, including first encounters, being viewed through the eyes of both black and white participants.

The result is a portrait of unforgettable contrasts.

Michael says: “Getting the book published has been a struggle, though ultimately successful because a number of people including Ross Garnaut got behind it. Several companies in PNG agreed to sponsor its production by committing to buying copies, thereby reducing risk for the publisher, Halstead Press.”

Historian Prof Hank Nelson has said of Not a Poor Man’s Field: “With broad and exacting research, clear prose and a perspective that includes battling prospectors, international companies, government officers, black labourers and villagers, Michael Waterhouse has turned extraordinary events into fine history.”


Michael Waterhouse has been a senior adviser in the Commonwealth Treasury and, later, Chief Manager of Retail Banking Strategy in Westpac. He has close family ties to the pre-war goldfields, his grandfather Les Waterhouse having been a pivotal player in their development, as a director of the largest gold-mining company, Bulolo Gold Dredging and the largest air transport company, Guinea Airways.

You can find out more about the book and its underpinning research here.


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Keith Jackson


General Reviews

Michael Waterhouse has done a great service to Australia and Papua New Guinea by rescuing a fascinating period of Australian and PNG history for present and future generations of both countries…This is a largely forgotten period of Australia’s history, but it is an amazing story… This splendidly illustrated book represents a staggering amount of painstaking research. – John Farquharson, Canberra Times

…fills in some of the crucial historical setting, underlining the rapidity but also the geographic and sectoral narrowness of development in earlier years in PNG, while highlighting the roles of extraordinary Australians in that process, mostly for the better but inevitably also sometimes for the worse…. It’s a start to learn how much a part of our own story, our own national adventure, is so intimately linked with that of our former colony and closest neighbour. – Rowan Callick, The Australian

In a superb combination of meticulous research, broad understanding and clear writing, Michael Waterhouse offers us a tour de force… Splendidly illustrated, and supported by a wealth of helpful references and a first-rate index… - Peter Ryan (Editor, PNG Encyclopaedia), Una Voce

To anyone who cares about the history of Australia’s twentieth-century stewardship of PNG, Not a Poor man’s Field is a welcome addition… In attention to detail, its scholarship is exemplary, as are its maps and some 160 period photographs. – Chris Ashton, Quadrant

It isn’t often that one can successfully judge a book by its appearance but the reviewer can confidently state that the promise of excellence associated with the magnificent illustration on the dust cover proved correct, for what is revealed is a fascinating story…this is a beautifully presented publication and the many high quality and interesting photographs are alone reason to purchase and own this book. – Mel Davies, Editor, Journal of Australasian Mining History

This book provides a welcome and complete chronicle of a very significant part of Papua New Guinean and Australian mining history … an excellent and readable volume. – Tom Hunter, The AusIMM Bulletin

This is a truly magnificent book… The research involved and the splendid photographic coverage of the people, the environment and the area at that time provides not only a triumph of historical recording but a most interesting read. – Geoff Hutton, Gold Coast PNG Club

Academic reviews and commentaries

We are fortunate that Michael Waterhouse’s interest in his grandfather’s story inspired this sustained effort of scholarship. It is a wonderful book, rich in insights into the human condition. I commend it especially to Australians and Papua New Guineans seeking to understand some important and little known parts of their countries’ stories. – Professor Ross Garnaut

With broad and exacting research, clear prose and a perspective that includes battling prospectors, international companies, government officers, black labourers and villagers, Michael Waterhouse has turned extraordinary events into fine history. – Hank Nelson (Emeritus Professor, Division of
 Pacific and Asian History, ANU)

This is a work of serious scholarship. Waterhouse has consulted an extraordinary range of primary materials… and has managed to encompass an impressive range of perspectives on the history of the Morobe goldfields... This book is much more than a history of a colonial industry… The strength of the book is the scope of its social history... Waterhouse goes beyond the evocative stories of everyday life and critically explores the social milieu, the towns that emerged as the industry flourished and the attitudes that shaped social relations. - Martha Macintyre (A/Professor, University of Melbourne), Pacific Affairs

Engagingly written, exhaustively researched, and beautifully illustrated,
Waterhouse’s book provides a valuable insight into a time and place that offered mixed opportunities for adventurous New Guineans and Europeans seeking fortune far from home in the Morobe goldfields. - Anthony Yates (University of Queensland), Journal of Pacific History

… a fascinating and thoroughly professional piece of work. I especially like the social history bits - the voices of the labourers etc., and the generous space you've given them. It has good span - gives a clear view of the structure of over-all authority and enterprise, but also a good account of experience at the bottom, and a good sense of place. Your economics experience gives the whole thing a guiding dynamic. Alan Atkinson, Emeritus Professor of History, UNE

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