Our grand adventure was to fly over those mountains
I was told

Development colonialism in modern Papua New Guinea


BEFORE colonisation and the world wars, Papua New Guinea was the land of the free and the brave. People lived harmoniously with their environment and respected their traditions.

But all of this changed when the colonists arrived. They psychologically impounded the people and questioned their way of life.

The lives of the natives were lost among the new influences and ideologies and PNG dropped to its knees.

The lives of the natives were destroyed through exploitation of land and resources, desecration of traditions and abuse of human rights and property.

The foreigners were cruel in their deeds and harsh in their occupation of our lands. They used force and acquired what they wanted by imposing their own rule of law.

The colonial administration gradually established and brought forth a new idea of governance. This was more moderate than the punitive measures that preceded it but brought inevitable and immutable change.

After independence in 1975, PNG earned the right to govern itself. But it didn’t break away entirely from the imposition of its former colonisers. The same old stuff happened but took a slightly different form.

Neocolonialism uses economic, political and cultural pressures to control or influence other countries. This is what has happened to us.

We have been subjugated by the exploitation of our mineral and marine resources and the acquisition of land and property.

Developing nations in particular need foreign aid to bolster their weak economies and poor infrastructure.

PNG depends heavily on Australian development aid. Australia is the largest aid donor to PNG. Every year, the government of PNG receives foreign aid valued at more than $500 million from Australia.

Australia gives aid generously to PNG because of historical links but also because there are political and commercial benefits to Australia.

This aid from the Australian government makes PNG dependent and vulnerable to Australia’s demands, such relationships are about giving as well as taking.

Since independence, the opportunities for Australian resource companies have grown enormously.

As economic liberalisation came to PNG, so did a new form of development in the form of beguiling resource exploitation projects. Indigenous people had their lives disturbed and destroyed by the infiltration of corporate organisations.

Indigenous populations have mostly had their rightful ownership ripped-off of by government schemes and policies, for example, the so-called Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABLs).

These conglomerates have a lot of money to push forward their ambitions for smooth and profitable operations in PNG. And they usually get away with what they want without the consent of the indigenous people.

To overcome such schemes, the PNG government needs to develop smarter strategies to bolster the weak agreements that amount to little more than puppeteering. PNG has to develop a culture that is not motivated by the trend of being dependent for development on others. And it needs to be firm in negotiating the terms of agreements.


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Judy Kiap

Regardless of what had happened during the colonial times with the colonial powers, what happened was a step forward to where we are now.

Though their intentions were on profitable enterprises,that created a way for our leaders that time to think maturely to be self governed and they really made that happened.

With the power in our hands, it is now time for us to do what we can to build our nation the way we want it to be.

Col Young

Though a retiree of 72 years, your incorrect and unkind words about “colonial” kiaps has prompted me to write of a happening almost 50 years distant that may change your mind about kiaps and their work in your country.

In 1966 I was a kiap stationed at Olsobip Patrol Post when I conducted the second patrol into the remote and mountainous Star Mountains situated in the NW corner of the now Western Province, the first patrol being in 1963.

In my Patrol Report diary entry of 30 August 1966, I wrote (in part), “This small creek has a brilliant yellow sediment the whole length of its course and when handled crumbles to reveal a green centre. Most likely a combination of sulphur and copper...” My recognition of sulphur and copper sulphate harked back to my high school chemistry days.

My report was forwarded to the District Commissioner in Daru who, in paragraph two of his covering report dated 17 October 1966 to the Director in Port Moresby, highlighted the “sulphur/copper deposits” find.

As a result, the Kenecott mining company later had a Jet Ranger helicopter in the area to begin the search for the copper deposits. This was the beginning of Ok Tedi mine.

As put by the later Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Queensland, David Hyndman, who spent many following years in the area and wrote a number of books on the Wopkaimin (Min) people as well as his doctoral thesis -

“Young (1966) came to have more profound impact on the Wopkaimin than any previous ...patrol...he made ethnographic observations but more importantly he recorded that the streams seemed to contain copper deposits! ...

"Based on Young’s routine patrol report, the American transnational Kennecott took out prospecting authorities No.28 and 35 P on Wopkaimin land with ... the Department of Lands in 1967.”

I remember later entreaties by two Fly River traders (Herb G and Bluey B) for me to peg a personal mining claim on the area, however that course had never entered my mind at the time nor did I later entertain their suggestion. It was not what being a kiap was about.

Having said that, my son often light-heartedly laments my lack of action in depriving him of a handsome inheritance. In truth, I received barely a thankyou – but then gratitude or recognition for good deeds was neither expected nor sought by kiaps generally.

I am content to regard the find as a gift by kiaps to the people of PapuaNewGuinea. How the Ok Tedi bounty of government mining revenue has been spent, and the subsequent damage caused by the mining to the Fly River and its peoples, was of course beyond our control.

Steve Gallagher

I think colonial kiaps, missionaries and westerners who had worked very hard to serve PNG will not agree with this piece.

Obzz needs to justify his claim.

I'm afraid that this kind of thinking is a threat to PNG Australia relations in future.

Chris Overland

I fear that Obed Ikupu has fallen victim to the what is often called the "black armband" view of history.

Adherents to this view believe that colonialism always involved a pitiless, self serving and exploitative colonial power that oppressed the native peoples, abused their rights and destroyed their culture.

There were some especially egregious examples of this sort of behaviour by the European colonial powers, notably in South America and Africa.

European colonialism was not a benign force in many cases and, in some, it was utterly contemptible.

However, while no apologist for European colonialism, I think it is important to acknowledge that not all colonial powers conducted themselves inhumanely or unjustly.

PNG is a case in point: Australia as a colonial power was undoubtedly patronising and authoritarian, but it felt itself to have significant obligations to protect Papua New Guineans from unduly exploitative or culturally destructive behaviour.

So, for example, it forbade the purchasing of land except by the administration itself, recognised the concept of collective ownership and land rights and tried to apply the rule of law fairly and in a way that was at least sympathetic to traditional thinking and behaviours.

The large scale open warfare that characterised the colonial exploitation of Africa did not occur and nor did the unspeakable cruelty that characterised Spain's depredations in South America.

So, I think that Obed has based his article upon a series of false or misleading premises about the nature of PNG's colonial experience.

Despite this, I think that his concern about corporate exploitation of PNG is well founded.

As a general observation, modern international corporations are so strongly focussed upon the creation of profitable enterprises that their boards and executives often develop a "whatever it takes" mentality, where morality plays second fiddle to venality.

This is especially true of their operations in the developing world where, safe from the close observation of effective regulatory authorities, there has been a good deal of scandalous and just plain illegal behaviour.

This is not peculiar to former colonial powers: there is ample evidence that countries that have thrown off the colonial yoke are no less inclined to behave the same way.

Thus, whether Australian companies are the worst offenders in PNG is an open question, although I am quite certain that some have behaved with unusual insensitivity to local feelings and aspirations, Bougainville being a case in point.

So, I think that Obed's conclusion about what the PNG government needs to do is right, even if I do not agree with some of his reasoning in support of his argument.

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